The Political System of a Crusader State : The Kingdom of Jerusalem

Korean Minjok Leadership Academy
International Program
Chung, Habin
Term Paper, AP European History Class, June 2006

Table of Contents

I. Introduction
II. Kings of Jerusalem
III. Haute Cour
IV. References

I. Introduction :
            The First Crusade (1096-1099) was triggered by Pope Urban II at the Council of Clermont (1095) to aid the Byzantine Empire against the invasions of the Seljuk Turks. Soon, however, the capture, or rather, recapture, in the European perspective, of the Holy Land became the main objective. Promoted by religious piety and by economic greed for fief, 100,000 Europeans went with the First Crusade. It defeated the Turks and did capture Jerusalem in July of 1099, the event marking the climax of the crusade. The crusades established numerous crusader states, most important of all, the Kingdom of Jerusalem. The city of Jerusalem was retaken by a Mamluk army led by Saladin in 1187, when the capital of the Kingdom was moved to Acre; the Kingdom lasted until the fall of Acre in 1291.
            This research paper mainly concerns the ruling system of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

II. Kings of Jerusalem
            The ruling system of the Holy Land led to quite a controversy in the beginning. Some crusaders thought that it should be ruled directly by the Pope, as a form of theocracy. This idea was supported by the papal legate, Daimbert of Pisa and possibly also by Godfrey of Bouilon, Duke of Lower Lorraine and one of the leaders of the First Crusade who later became the first king of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. However, due to the short reign of Daimbert and many other limitations, the state of Jerusalem was ruled in a form of kingdom, a monarchy.
            Godfrey of Bouillon, as mentioned above, was chosen to be the first king. However, he refused to take the title, claiming that no man should ever wear a crown where Christ has worn his crown of thorns. He instead took the title Advocatus Sancti Sepulchri (Defender of the Holy Sepulchre). He was admired since 13th century Godfrey as a legendary figure. Godfrey died only after a year, in 1100, without an heir. He was succeeded by his brother, Baldwin of Le Bourg, Count of Edessa. Baldwin I more supported a secular monarchy in the western European style. He had himself crowed as the King of Jerusalem though Daimber, now Latin Patriarch, and became the first to use the term Rex Latinitas Ierosolimitanus (King of the Latins of Jerusalem). The following kings were all blood-related with Godfrey, although many kings were succeeded by brothers or cousins, for many died early without heirs. In addition, the royal line did not always continue with men, as sometimes the kingdom was ruled by queens.
            The kings were mainly responsible to lead the kingdom into battle, a role successfully done by the first few rulers. The first king was a very able leader of the First Crusades, who also secured the foundation of the kingdom by defeating the Fatimid Egypt at the Battle of Ascalon one month after the establishment of the kingdom. Baldwin I successfully expanded the Kingdom, capturing many port cities such as Acre (1104), extending its sovereignty over the other Crusader states to the north, and defending the kingdom against Muslim invasions. Baldwin II, successor of Baldwin I, was also an able ruler whom also successfully defended against Fatimid and Seljuk invasions.
            By contrast to several contemporary European monarchs, whom were centralizing powers to themselves, the king of Jerusalem shared his power to the nobles. This was partly due to the fact that the nobles tended to live in the city of Jerusalem rather than on their fiefs on the countryside, and that the kings tended to be young. The Haute Cour (high court), which was formed by the nobles as one of the earliest forms of parliament, was very influential, as the kingship of Jerusalem was partially elected and partially hereditary. The king was frequently elected by the nobles and bishops, or at least recognized by the Haute Cour. He was considered as Primus Inter Pares (first among equals).
            The kingdom was based on the ideal feudal law, especially following the feudal structure of France. Immediately after the First Crusade, land was distributed to loyal vassals of Godfrey, forming numerous feudal lordships within the kingdom. This was continued by Godfrey's successors, although the details varied highly, depending on the ruler.

III. Haute Cour
            The power of the Kingdom of Jerusalem was highly dependent on the power of Haute Cour (High Court), a feudal council, which held a combination of legislative and judicial powers. It is one of the earliest form of western parliament. The Haute Cour is sometimes also called the curia generalis, the curia regis, or, rarely, the Parlement. It laid its basis in feudalistic, medieval parliamentarian ideals.
            All vassals of the kings, whom were subjects of the decisions, could sit and participate, technically, but usually only the wealthy nobles and bishops did so. Certain nobles of the high ranking class sometimes regularly attended and served as judges when necessary. The system gradually developed a hierarchy or higher nobles (direct vassals of the king) and lesser nobles (indirect vassals, whom served the higher nobles. Theoretically, the lesser nobles had equal power of voice, but in reality, the powerful barons had power over the lesser nobles. It is known that about 600 men was eligible to vote in court. In the late era of the Kingdom of Jerusalem masters of the military orders also were given the right to sit and vote as well. However, anyone who had committed perjury or had broken an oath, regardless of his social rank, was deprived of the right to speak and vote. During the 12th century, a small group of advisors were gathered for the king, but this system was no longer in use by the end of the century.
            The Haute Cour was a power that could even interfere in the decisions of the king. Most importatnly, the court elected the king (or a region, if necessary) and settled disputes between various claimants. When the king was elected his reign officially began with meeting the court, where all the members formally swore on oath of service and recongition to the new king. The Haute Cour interfered in the decision-making of almost all matters that concerned with the subjects, from taxation to obligations for military servie. It was the court, not the king, who levied taxes, voted on military expeditions, or minted coins. They also gave the king advice, but in practise they could even disagree with the king and override his orders. The king was only recognized as ¡°first among equals¡±, although he was unmistakably, recognized as the head of state.
            The Haute Cour served as the only judicial body for the nobles in the Kingdom of Jerusalem. It concerned criminal cases such as murder, rape, treason, and simpler feudal disputes such as freeing of slaves, selling and purchasing fiefs or refusing of service. When accused, it was possible to relieve their charges by challenging the appointed judges in a judicial combat. However, since this was consider impractical, no historical proves the actual use of the relief system. Perhaps the most important authority of the court was Amalric I's Assise sur la ligece. It formally prohibited illegal confiscations of fiefs to all of the king¡¯s vassals or any ally lords. The lord who violated the legislation would not even be given a trial. Punishments included forfeiture of land and exile for kingdom, or even in exteme cases, death. Amalric I's Assise sur la ligece was the only legal system eliminating the distinction between higher and lesser nobles.
            n the 19th century, the court system of the Kingdom of Jerusalem was commonly accepted as the purest representation of feudal parliament of the Medieval Ages. However, the court system today is judged as too simple. This limitation was due to the fact that the kingdom lasted less than 200 years, was constantly at war, covered only so little land and had little European population.

IV. Bibliography

Note : websites listed below were visited in May/June 2006.
1.      Alexander Ganse, Middle Ages, KMLA World History Handbook, KMLA 2004
2.      Craig, Graham, Kagan, Ozment, Turner, The Heritage of World Civilizations, 6th Edition, 2003
3.      Article : Kingdom of Jerusalem, from Wikipedia,
4.      William of Tyre, Historia Rerum in Partibus Transmarinis Gestarum, translated by James Brundage, The Crusades: A Documentary History, 1997, quoted after Medieval Sourcebook,
5.      Kelly L. Ross, Kings of Jerusalem and Cyprus, Counts of Edessa, Princes of Antioch, Counts of Tripoli, Kings of Thessalonica, Dukes of Athens, Princes of Achaea, and the Grand Masters of the Military Monastic Orders, 2002,
6.      Article : Kings of Jerusalem, from Kings of Jerusalem,
7.      Article : Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, from Catholic Encyclopedia 1907 edition,
8.      Raymond d'Aguilers, Historia Francorum qui ceperunt Jerusalem, in "Historiens Occidentaux des Croisades, translated by Dr Tom J Rees, The Story of the First Crusade, 1999, excerpts quoted after Ronald Bruce Meyer,
9.      Article : Haute Cour of Jerusalem, from Wikipedia,
10.      Article : Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, from Columbia Encyclopedia 6th ed. 2006,
11.      Article : Guy of Lusignan, from Absolute Astronomy Reference,
12.      Article : Godfrey of Bouillon, from Absolute Astronomy Reference,
13.      Cees Kloosterman, Kingdom of Jerusalem, from Kloosterman Genealogy 1999-2006,
14.      Main Events in the History of Jerusalem, from Century One Bookstore 2003,
15.      François Velde, Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, from Heraldica,
16.      Suzanne Guthrie, The Hidden Kingdom - A Sermon of Love, Christian Century 2001,